Katherine Mansfield's Modernist Innovations Essay

1966 words - 8 pages

The short story has invariably become regarded as a conservative form of literature given its often rigid, and basic plot dimensions focused on narrow plot and character development. However, with different writers come different experimentations within the short story. This is especially true with the modernism movement in mind. One modernist writer in particular, Katherine Mansfield, was indeed conscious of the possibilities that existed within the form of the short story as is evidenced in The Garden Party and Other Stories, Mansfield’s most prolific collection of short stories. Just as James Joyce sought to innovate the long-standing traditions of the novel, Katherine Mansfield placed her efforts in revolutionizing the short story. Such innovations are seen and can be made note of within Mansfield’s story “The Daughters of the Late Colonel.” Within this brief story, Mansfield sets new definitions for narrative form, as well as character development. In utilizing newfound techniques such as ‘stream of consciousness’ writing and free indirect discourse, Mansfield presents a short story unlike any that had come before it. In using such innovative techniques, within a conservative form, Mansfield successfully helps to pave the way for women modernists while bringing societal issues regarding class and gender to light. Thus, irrevocably proving that the short story is still a viable form of literature to make use of in a modern era.
The short story can often be described as being particularly involved with one isolated plot and the transformation of one or more characters. While Mansfield’s “Daughters of the Late Colonel” is a story centered around one central theme, the idea of transforming characters is one that is completely and purposefully ignored by Mansfield. This short story is one that makes remarks on two rather flawed characters; flawed for their indecisiveness, their confusion, and their lack of independence. The story begins with the two sisters trying to decide what to do with their deceased father’s top hat without reaching a sound conclusion to a seemingly minute decision. Through the course of events that the narrative portrays, the story then ends with the two girls failing to reach a conclusion as to who should speak first in a conversation, thus causing both sisters to forget what they wanted to say in the first place. In ending the story on this uneventful note, Mansfield has disrupted the typical conventions of the short story by proving no real resolution to the plot and showing a lack of development in the characters. As opposed to the common short story, Mansfield’s story does not offer any solution, but rather a denial of solution. It can be said that Mansfield’s denial of transformation is ultimately representative of the restrictions faced by women in the modernist era. In employing a restrictive narrative form Mansfield successfully disrupts and challenges the form of the short story and the societal flaws...

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